dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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NCAA: What Comes After What Comes Next?

August 17th, 2022 by dk
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Nobody knows what comes next for the University of Oregon’s athletic programs or the Pac-12 Conference. The NCAA itself seems powerless and uninterested in its future, leaving those decisions to competing television and media outlets. They will be spending billions for the top-drawer entertainment the schools reliably provide.

I don’t know what comes next, but I have a good idea about what comes after that. NCAA has already found the winning formula for televised sports entertainment. They only need to replicate basketball’s March Madness into a months-long football playoff tournament. It may take another ten years, but I’ll bet that’s where things are heading.

News coverage has focused relentlessly on how the major football conferences relate to one another, after UCLA and USC announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024. We have been paying attention locally to what will happen to OSU if the UO receives and accepts a similar offer.

Every conference has weaker members who rely on proximity and historic rivalries to stay relevant amid stronger rivals. As collegiate sports transitions to becoming a national entertainment product, stadium ticket sales and proximity to fans wanes. Media money waxes.

We forget that Vanderbilt is a member of the SEC or that Rutgers is part of the Big Ten. Most of their conference rivals would happily forget them too. Television outlets will want more games from top tier teams and fewer games featuring the rest. A double-elimination tournament that lasts for months will accomplish this.

Conference play will be reduced to a few weeks at the start of the season as teams position themselves for the games that matter. The first games will resemble exhibition games, followed by two months of games where the losers go home.

You might laugh at a playoff structure that begins with 64 teams, but only because you don’t think like a TV executive. There have been as many as 40 bowl games that constituted collegiate football’s post season. This will be nothing more than a better organized version of that.

Television executives don’t care about coaches getting only a week to prepare their team for an opponent. Or the cost of transporting equipment across the country. Or the education of collegiate athletes. The entertainments dollars earned and spent will solve all those minor problems, except the last one.

Schools with good teams will play more games and earn more money. Lesser teams will earn and play less. Entertainment dollars will drive every other detail.

How will the University of Oregon fare in such a system? So many changes will happen during the intervening years that it’s impossible to predict. As athletes consider themselves professionals in the Name-Image-Likeness sports economy, they may not consider any affiliation with any school to be important.

Or it may all have the opposite effect. Athletes may only want to be aligned with branding powerhouses that can launch them to stardom. That will favor the Ducks, at least until TV executives set their sights on promoting and televising high school games.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Do We Have Sights Worth Seeing?

August 14th, 2022 by dk
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That sound you’ve been hearing for the past week or two is a city of 170,000 people scratching its head. The athletes and TV crews gave high marks to Hayward Field and Track Town USA after the World Athletic Championships. Meanwhile, every resident is asking themselves what just happened — if anything happened at all?

We were warned that every restaurant would be jammed for those two weeks. (I did some of that warning myself.) But except for cheapskates going to Track Town Pizza for free souvenir napkins and a handful of high-end eateries, most places reported no perceivable increases. University and private caterers inside the perimeter fed most people.

Saturday Market had less traffic than usual the first week of the meet. They felt a bump the second week, but the county fair deserves more credit than to the 180 nations represented at Hayward Field. Oakridge and Noti can sometimes feel a world away, but the commute to Eugene was tougher for those coming from Oman and Namibia.

In retrospect, we should have expected the athletes to stay inside the Hayward Field bubble. Elite athletes measure every gram they ingest. They’re not going to splurge on Dana’s Cheesecake, no matter how many people rave about it. Same with their support people, who are often retired competitors themselves.

But what about the fans, who traveled from all over to watch their favorite sport? The first lesson for us is that we don’t really have that many sights that are worth seeing. There’s no Big Ben or Eiffel Tower that tells family and friends back home where they are. We love our rivers and our waterfalls, but they fail the branding test for exclusivity.

The closest thing we have to an emerging iconic image that the world recognizes as unique is Hayward Field itself. Other buildings or bridges or natural features are not instantly recognizable, unless you count Pre’s Rock. But that failing can shape our ambitions, taking a page from our recent guests. We can better ourselves in two different ways.

One tack would be to encourage more distinctive buildings and allow them to grow together. Thom Mayne’s architecture started something with the federal courthouse. Several buildings along or near Franklin Boulevard now use metal or glass to reflect our central river back to us. They seem futuristic, but Mayne was reimagining Agripac’s cannery.

We once needed it to keep this valley’s bounty available throughout the year. The cannery served that purpose and met that need. Now we hope to give ourselves and our guests something else that everyone hungers for — meaningful moments and enduring images. Our muralists have given us a good down payment on this account.

This will offend our West Coast sensibilities, but creating a built environment that rewards visitors directly takes centuries. Urban design would be a terrific hobby if we each lived 500 years. But also know this: Eugene’s land mass is exactly the same as Paris’s. (Eugene is about 90 acres larger.)

A second strategy could pay off much sooner. When people try to describe what Eugene offers that they can’t find elsewhere, it always involves our people. Hayward audiences are knowledgeable. Hikers are generous. Saturday Market is stocked with colorful characters. 

Hindsight argues for a more porous perimeter around Hayward. We should have somehow kept the fan festival adjacent to the event, as it was for several Olympic Trials. We allowed a technocrat from London to decide how to showcase Eugene.

We thought we had to protect the competitors from our residents and vice versa. We now know it would have been better if we’d widened the perimeter and invited everyone inside it.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Griner’s Swift Punishment Carries a Lesson

August 10th, 2022 by dk
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You may not know about Brittney Griner or her stardom in the WNBA. You may not care that Russian airport guards caught her with a cannabis vape cartridge in her luggage. You may not believe that a basketball player with a medical marijuana prescription is worth a convicted arms dealer in a contemplated prisoner swap.

I hadn’t really followed her career. I don’t listen to sports radio. I knew that WNBA stars have to play overseas during the off-season to make ends meet. And we all know that Russia has devolved into a police state.

Is Griner a convicted felon or a political prisoner? Putin makes no distinction.

Something altogether different caught my eye when Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. It wasn’t the severity of her punishment. It was the speed. This won’t be a popular sentiment, but we can learn a lesson here.

Griner was detained at the Moscow Airport Feb. 17 and charged with smuggling drugs into Russia. Her trial began July 1. She pled guilty. She was sentenced Aug. 4, less than six months after her arrest-slash-abduction.

Contrast that verdict with Alex Jones, punished last week for fabricating lies against Sandy Hook families. That took almost a decade.

Most rioters who besieged the U.S. Capitol 18 months ago have not faced any consequences.

Anyone charged with a federal crime in the United States waits years for a verdict. There’s a vast difference between pursuing justice and meting out punishment, but our systems take too long.

Crime is reduced when consequences are swift and certain. When cause and effect are stretched too far apart, their connection fades into an abstract concept. We don’t want anyone to be wrongly convicted, and each safeguard creates more delay. How are we to respond when the delays create problems themselves?

Move the argument away from criminal justice and it becomes easier to see its debilitating effect.

After the Holiday Farm wildfires, the most hopeful and determined residents wanted to rebuild almost immediately. Lane County was taking five months to process building permits. Contractors couldn’t give guaranteed bids because lumber prices were skyrocketing. Once plans were approved, they were no longer affordable.

China built a hospital for coronavirus patients in a week, and they’ve done this more than once.

It’s easy to say that’s too fast. It’s harder to determine what’s too slow. I’m asking like a kid in the back seat, “Are we there yet?” Have our approval systems gotten so slow that they no longer serve people’s needs? Justice delayed is justice denied.

Our processes are even more sclerotic for environmental concerns.

Dioxin cleanup at Eugene’s shuttered J.H. Baxter wood treatment facility could take decades. Foster Farms wants to renew a critical permit but they have no plans to reopen their chicken processing plant in Creswell.

Permission takes longer than production.

More flexibility in staffing would allow government to process permit surges without increasing costs. Delays carry real costs.

Citizens must believe that their government works for them. When that faith fades, bad things happen.

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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University Land Swap: Yes, Please

August 8th, 2022 by dk
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The University of Oregon has aggressive plans to expand its athletic facilities west of Autzen Stadium. They’d like to dedicate the Moshofsky Center to other sports and give football a curvaceous new indoor facility and two new practice fields. The renderings offered when the university announced the project in October highlight a clear roof over 170,000 square feet of practice space. 

From overhead, the roof looks like the university’s signature “O” melting in the sun. (No word whether the estate of Salvador Dali was consulted or reimbursed for the homage.) Oregon’s version of college football is built on audacity, and this practice facility will be no different. Recruits are already being wowed by the images. The structure will certainly attract more young talent to play football in Eugene.

There’s only one little problem with the university’s plan. They don’t have enough room. Leo Harris Parkway is in the way. So are portions of Alton Baker Park. The present home for the Eugene Science Factory may also be affected.

These present limitations are bringing the university to the negotiating table. Because realigning ambition will be harder than realigning roadways, the university will replace what’s lost for park patrons, essentially making everything in the area more compact.

In exchange for realigning Leo Harris Parkway, the university has offered the city eight acres of undeveloped land, south of the Willamette River and east of the new Downtown Riverfront Park. The proposed swap could become the most valuable land deal since John Musumeci lured PeaceHealth to RiverBend.

It has the potential to be a win for all parties, especially because the university is willing to think creatively to meet its ambitions.

UO gets a new facility to impress recruits. Parking becomes more convenient for Cuthbert Amphitheater patrons and the duck pond at Alton Baker Park. Maybe the Science Factory can be relocated to the old EWEB headquarters, to the fairgrounds, or to anchor new development around Lane Community College.

Those eight acres of valuable waterfront property will open pathways for Eugene’s next renaissance. Our dream of uniting the city and the university along the river may be coming into view. Should the city expand the park? Will they make it available for riverfront housing, adding substantial sums to the tax rolls? Might the university have seller’s remorse and buy it back when the Knight Campus needs to expand?

The city doesn’t need to know that answer right now. All the possible outcomes are good ones — and very likely to get better over time. Time is a valuable asset, when it’s leveraged properly. For example, the city wisely added a fourth story to the  downtown library for future expansion. The city can land bank those eight acres.

Eugene’s leaders should meet the moment with a little audacity of our own. Now is the time to remind the university and its benefactor about a system that has been whispered since the feds built themselves an audacious new courthouse.

All of Eugene’s riverfront improvements, finished and fantasized, will be improved with a gondola-style people-moving system across the river. Imagine how our own version of the Portland Aerial Tram will look on TV when ESPN GameDay comes to Eugene. Open the Autzen’s parking for students and faculty to use year-round. Then we’ll all feel better about football’s impact on our town’s trajectory. 

We’ve always been a river city, but we’ve forgotten how to tell that story. Eugene Skinner built his fortune by ferrying settlers. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Swap some land on either side of the river, but join the sides together in an audacious celebration of that river and its place in our history.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Stop Apologizing for the Inconvenience

August 3rd, 2022 by dk
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How did “we apologize for the inconvenience” become ubiquitous? I’ve pondered that question, mostly so that you won’t have to. According to a Google Books search, “inconvenience” has been steadily declining for centuries. It comes up one-tenth as often now as it did in the 1840s. Meanwhile, “apologize” has recently tripled in usage.

In other words, we’re inconvenienced a lot less, but we’re apologizing a lot more.

The simple answer and larger trend is that we’ve accepted contrition as a substitute for competence. It’s expensive to train staff to do things right every time. It’s cheaper to teach them to apologize with unctuous sincerity. Apologies have multiplied like Tribbles on the Enterprise, but the ubiquity of “inconvenience” takes us from “Star Trek” to “The Twilight Zone.”

Those five words in that order are almost always the same. At first I thought the phrase grew out of our obsession with efficiency. Whatever mishap is being addressed in the apology, a loss of time is almost certainly a factor. Having a single apology for every circumstance is itself an ode to efficiency.

But the phrase presumes that we are efficient and productive with every moment. That’s not true for any of us, unless we work inside an Amazon warehouse. So the reasoning doesn’t quite explain how inconvenience steals the spotlight for every tangled transaction.

Memes develop because people like them. Stock phrases like this one survive and multiply because they offer something that their alternatives do not. I think I  discovered the secret ingredient that keeps us coming back for more.

Highlighting our inconvenience sneaks in a dollop of false flattery. Convenience is prized most by the upper class. Only rich people assume that life will not (or should not) include daily struggles.

A fuller message can be extracted from this one-size-fits-all apology: “The bad news is that we lost your luggage. The good news is that you are someone who prizes convenience above all other things, so we won’t even mention the luggage. Your inconvenience is worth so much more than that luggage, wherever it is.”

The apologizers are using a misdirection worthy of Eddie Haskell. ”Why, yes, Mrs. Cleaver, Wally and I broke that vase with a baseball bat. By the way, is that a new dress you’re wearing?” You’re being served incompetence with a side of cloying obsequiousness. A spoonful of sugar makes the apology go down.

Thanks to constant repetition, the slather seeps into our self-talk. Like it or not, we’re wired to believe anything if it’s repeated enough. We should stop accepting this blanket apology because the fabric of society is beginning to fray.

We assume that convenience is what others want most. No wonder loneliness spreads like a plague. We don’t drop in on friends unannounced. We don’t even call our friends without checking first to be sure it won’t inconvenience them. (Every surprise — even a pleasant one — is also a slight inconvenience.)

Can society survive without surprising little exchanges between friends? We may soon find out, and the answer may prove to be terribly inconvenient.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. He has apparently been watching too many vintage television shows lately.

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Spare Sunday Sagacities

August 2nd, 2022 by dk
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Old habits die hard, except the ones that don’t die at all. For the last 15 years, I’ve been offering you Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-Ups, and Far-Flung Fripperies. Before that, it was a decade of Quips, Queries, and Querulous Quibbles. Here now, without apologies or improvements, Spare Sunday Scraps, Syllogisms, and Superfluous Sagacities:

• The Downtown Riverfront Festival was lovely. Too bad they didn’t just reclaim it as the Eugene Celebration.

• Checkout people are either friendly or fast. I wish they wore different colored hats.

• President Biden was born before the last four occupants of the Oval Office, dating back to 1993.

• I want to be useful, but not used up.

• My accountant had a wild plan, but I talked him off that ledger.

• How come we don’t use “how come” anymore to ask why?

• I’m lactose tolerant.

• Envy blocks happiness.

• Imagine the bad luck our country would have if the 4th of July ever landed on a Friday the 13th.

• At what point did anyone believe that Donald Trump was hinged?

• How do we keep our own comfort from disempowering our calls for change?

• Don’t you hate it when you aim for the indescribable and only achieve the remarkable?

• Regarding the recent SCOTUS ruling, a confusion: Is it “Roe VEE Wade” or “Roe VERSUS Wade”?

• It doesn’t matter whether you row or wade if the safe shore feels too far away.

• Twenty-three—year-old: “Do you know about TikTok?” Me: “I’m old, not dead.”

• Sadness and unhappiness are not the same.

• I can’t remember my last gambit.

• I don’t always want what I want to want.

• Which cooking utensil do you consistently use the most?

• What would it take for every Internet button labeled “SUBMIT” to be replaced with something less foreboding?

• How did mothers get their babies to spoon feed before there were airplanes?

• With every hook and line, get a sinker free!

• Early adopters aren’t allowed to keep their children forever.

• Anything that stays the same is slowly getting worse.

• Why is my podiatrist’s office on the second floor?

• Life begins at conception and ends at target practice.

• Eugene has more skybridges than escalators. That must mean something.

• Mean girls are average. Same with boys.

• Defense attorneys and copy editors both aim for shorter sentences.

• At a coffee shop entrance: “If unvaxxed, please mask.” Subtext: We’d rather not kill you. This seems about right.

• Our mothers loved us, but they overdid the “stranger danger” lesson.

• Most of us grew up hearing “waste not, want not” or “easy come, easy go.” Never both.

• Track stars obsess over measurements. No wonder so many are measured.

• If happiness equates with stability and sameness, I’ve probably disqualified myself.

• Will the metaverse come slowly or all at once? What good might come if a significant few of us refused in advance to participate?

• I really only want to make a difference. And I don’t mean that in the yearbooky sort of way. Using the last bit of shampoo in a bottle makes me feel accomplished.

• Self-immolation is bad but self-preservation can be worse because it’s unending.

• I had a fever dream that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos combined visions. An electric fleet delivers the Washington Post, Whole Foods milk, and your daily mail every morning before dawn.

• Most of what we call empathy is its opposite — unconscious projection.

• Most utopias are ruined for me by utopians.

• We replaced handshakes with elbow bumps around the same time we stopped sneezing into our hands. We should have changed either but not both.

• Why is POSTED the largest portion of most No Trespassing signs?

• Beauty is not created. It emerges.

• Who discovered the unnerving versatility of “We apologize for the inconvenience”?

• Liberals should fly American flags and welcome the confusion.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Politics Could Learn from Athletics

July 28th, 2022 by dk
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Track and Field is a better sport than all the others. Its alternate moniker, Athletics, speaks to the primacy and purity of the sport — it’s really just the athletes doing various athletic things. They don’t compete against one another. They compete together against physics. They aim to upend expectations, defy limits, and redefine what’s possible.

Winning grabs our attention, but training is the core of the sport. Opponents rarely introduce variables that can’t be overcome with discipline and technique. “Stop Pre” t-shirts endure as a joke against this deeper truth. Each athlete runs their own race.

We’re privileged to see what doesn’t fit inside the dominant narrative of winning. The sacrifices made might become background material after a victory, but most of it falls outside the frame. Many restaurants were disappointed that extra people didn’t produce extra business, especially the first week. But splurging is not in Athletics’ DNA.

We watched their everyday actions — a sprinter crossing the street, a shot-putter buying groceries, a relay team chatting under a tree. We witnessed how a severely disappointed competitor completes his day and then begins another one.

Devon Allen stands atop my podium of inspirational losers. He was disqualified from the 100 meter hurdles final for reacting too quickly to the starter’s pistol. Some rule-maker fond of round numbers had decided in advance what was humanly possible. (Isn’t that the point of the competition — to exceed what’s considered possible?)

This round-number rule-maker decreed that all humans require at least one-tenth of a second to react to the starter gun. Allen launched his pursuit of a world record in .099 seconds — one-thousandth of a second “too fast.” He accepted the judgment. Until the rule is changed, he promised to react more slowly in the future.

Allen’s disqualification produced something that was otherwise seldom heard inside Hayward Field: boos. Track fans are primarily exactly that — fans of the sport itself. Rooting for your favorites is fun, but not necessary. Tribes without tribalism — no wonder the sport hasn’t gained a foothold with American audiences.

A new world record evokes hearty cheers, even when it’s earned by a Swede or a Jamaican. Excellence is appreciated for what it is. Marvel at the purity of competition when the only real foes are height, distance, and time. Track fans revel in history being made — to see something that no one else has ever seen.

The sport itself carries that history forward, with its rules, records, and regulations. Athletes and fans fit themselves into that larger context. It gives meaning to the moments. A hurdler devotes years perfecting technique for a task that’s completed in 13 seconds. That’s pure competition, give or take a thousandth of a second.

If only we practiced politics with this same purity of heart! It wasn’t very long ago that our leaders were quick to remind us that their opponent was not their enemy. That each election determines who is best suited to carry the tradition and uphold the vision. That we’re all devoted to our system, our heritage and our country together.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Political Musical Chairs (a summer fantasy)

July 24th, 2022 by dk
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Why should Mike Doonesbury be the only newspaper character allowed a summer fantasy? I submit for your enjoyment a breezy beach read about rearranging power and politics. It starts where too many real stories lately have ended — at the Supreme Court. It’s hard not to worry about its politicization — and loss of legitimacy.

We may be bothered — even outraged — by recent court decisions, but it won’t consume us. Chief Justice John Roberts is not so fortunate.

He fought to keep his court above the fray. And lost. He and his colleagues are now surrounded by fray. It gets in your teeth when there’s the slightest breeze. It can ruin your dinner, as Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh recently learned. Activists are mobilizing for flash mob protests, denying anyone a moment’s peace.

Roberts must know that things will only get worse. This desperate spiral needn’t tarnish his place in history, but only if he acts quickly. He has rebuked his conservative associates with words, but not with a singular deed. Here begins my daydream. If Roberts resigns immediately, he can have his own summer fantasies.

President Biden can then replace Roberts, but the dominoes must fall quickly. He should appoint Merrick Garland as Chief Justice, because It’s Only Right. This won’t change most outcomes, but it will change the face of the court. It may taunt conservatives and soothe liberals, but it would also give Garland the job for which he is most suited.

Garland’s measured approach to everything in life could restore the reputation of the court. It would also create a vacancy at the top of the Justice Department, to be filled by someone who knows the importance of occasionally prosecuting with urgency.

Who better to replace Garland than Biden’s current vice president, Kamala Harris? She has the bona fides for keeping criminals off the streets. She could serve her nation best by keeping one criminal away from Pennsylvania Avenue, permanently.

Some will complain that the Justice Department must not be politicized. The bad faith demonstrated by Trump and nearly all Republicans in Congress has shown this concern to be naive. Both sides must play by the same set of rules. “Left or right” must not be allowed to obscure “right or wrong.”

Once Harris is allowed to return to her law-enforcement roots, Biden can claim a mulligan and make a second VP choice. For all her strengths, Harris has not inspired voters and citizens, for Biden’s benefit or her own. Biden should choose somebody who can win national elections. Stacey Abrams? Gavin Newsom? Keisha Lance Bottoms?

Whoever he chooses, Biden should be unequivocal: “This is the future of the Democratic Party, and I hope the future of America.” He should endorse his choice to follow him into the Oval Office. He should not be coy about who or what — only when.

If Democrats suffer the anticipated drubbing in the midterms, Biden should follow Roberts and complete this game of musical chairs by announcing his own retirement. Not immediately, of course, but also not waiting until the end of his term.

If he retires on January 22, 2023, his chosen successor would have almost two years of incumbency before the next presidential election. He or she will remain qualified to run for two full terms. Biden could exit the stage as the bridge between past and future, as he promised. But also as the consummate deal-maker he believes himself to be.

Out of the spotlight for the first time in 50 years, Biden will have time for leisurely lunches. His first invitation should go to former Chief Justice John Roberts. They can watch a better future unfold together. Who doesn’t daydream about that?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Is it All About Expiration Dates?

July 20th, 2022 by dk
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I sure hope I’m not about to die. It would fulfill the second half of a familiar storyline. I’ve been living the first half. Just when a person gets their affairs in order — boom! — a UPS truck runs them over while trimming flowers in their front yard. Joining these two halves uses illogic posing as mystical insight: “Somehow, he must have known what was coming.”

What’s coming hasn’t come yet, at least as this column goes to print. But my sudden spate of organizational success defies any logic. Hence, the fear about tripping the “run over while picking flowers” wire.

I’ve culled my books until they fit my bookcase. I’ve rid myself of literally hundreds of pounds of perfectly good (and untouched) reading material. I’ve dug through hundreds of partially completed task lists, replacing them with just one list — and it’s not as long as I had imagined.

I haven’t been reading inspirational gurus about organizing or “taking control” of my life. (Although, come to think of it, that phrase was in the title of one of the unread books I discarded.) I’ve just had some time to spare, for literally the first time ever.

I balanced my checkbook before tax season. I repotted my houseplants. I matched my leftover containers with their lids, abandoning the orphans. I learned to clip my fingernails without launching errant shards in every direction. I found a Cuban casserole recipe that used up some green olives that have lurked in the back of my fridge for years — expiration date: October 2016.

It felt a little weird reaching the end of two TV shows that I’ve been streaming for months. Closure is overrated, unless you like Going Out of Business sales. That’s a fate I’d rather not tempt. Just to be safe, my Cuban casserole called for capers. I bought a jar that should last me a decade.

It’s not like I’ve run out of things to do. My single, consolidated task list is several pages long. I have dozens of keys that pair with no locks in sight. My carpets need cleaning. I didn’t part with some of those unread books before confirming that the library has a copy if I change my mind about reading them. 

I still have lessons to learn, even if I have mastered the clipping of nails. (For example, historians reminded me of two failings in last Sunday’s column. Wayne Morse was not the only Senator to vote against the Vietnam War. There were two. And there’s no evidence Mary Skinner did more than approve of her husband’s decision to stake his claim here.)

Historians like to get things right, God bless them. Humans do, too. So why do we instinctively worry that getting things right will be followed by something going very wrong? Smelling flowers while waiting for a delivery seems too small a consolation. Do we crave balance more than beneficence? Are these stories shaped by grief, explaining a chaotic world and our disheveled selves?

My own disheveled self will return soon enough. Put it this way: I’m in no hurry to use up those capers.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Eugene is the Perfect Base Camp

July 17th, 2022 by dk
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Visitors who are just discovering Eugene should understand what its first White settler saw in the place. Frontiersmen had been passing through the area for several years, but it was Mary Skinner who told her husband Eugene that this would be a good place to settle. They built a cabin on the butte and raised their family here.

What did Mary Skinner see? Access. She thought the area held great promise, not for what it was, but for what could be reached from here. The mountains to the East, the ocean to the West, trading posts to the North, and fertile forests to the South. It was a perfect place to reach all the other possible places.

Eugene has always thought of itself as a base camp. When the Southern Pacific railroad built a spur from Portland that met the Eastern Railway line in Eugene, the theme emerged a second time. Eugene marketed itself in 1915 — and this is no joke — as “The City of Radiation,” complete with an eery green and  yellow glow behind it.

Visitors don’t care about our history. (Residents barely care about our history.) What can be reached from here? Draw three circles, defined by modes of transportation. I will pick four points (north, east, south, and west) that you can reach by foot (or by bus), on a bike, and then in a quick car ride, always getting you back to base camp by nightfall.

Walking from Kesey Square downtown, you should first visit the replica of the Skinner’s cabin to the North, noting they raised five children in there. To the East, take in two metallic courthouses — one for law, then another for basketball — because both introduced architectural ambition to Eugene.

To the South, the namesake of one of those courthouses left his ranch to become a dog park. U.S. Senator Wayne Morse was also the only vote against the Vietnam War. (Skepticism ages well here.) To the West, gaze upon two local business empires. Aaron Jones built and innovated sawmills. Jerry Orem built a hardware store to beat all comers.

Start again from the center, but venture several miles now in each direction. Time your visit north to the few open hours for Country Bakery off Peoria Road in Halsey. Any other time, you’ll be in the middle nowhere, which is notable in itself. Heading east (and up), find the bronze monument Ken Kesey commissioned atop Mt. Pisgah.

The better view is from the South. From Spencer Butte, you can see how forests engulf the city. You’ll see a large blue expanse to the West. Head there next, to the Fern Ridge Reservoir. Managing water flow is vital to the region’s progress, as we’ll see on the next loop.

One more time around the circle, this time planning a day trip, but nothing more. Point yourself north to Oregon’s other university town, Corvallis, but remember how there was nothing but delicious cinnamon buns halfway between? Oregon leaves empty spaces empty.

Heading east from Eugene, follow the McKenzie River past a dam or two, up to the Blue Pool. Pointed south, Cottage Grove has plenty to offer — covered bridges, movie trivia, counterculture history, and a terrific bookstore.

It’s all ocean an hour west of here, but don’t expect a warm welcome. The Devil’s Churn is aptly named. Visit Sea Lion Caves. You don’t often go to a zoo and find that it’s you stuck in the cage.

If you can’t resist testing the limits of a long day trip, you can reach Portland, Bend, Ashland, or a whale-watching cruise, each in half a day. Whichever direction you choose, Mary Skinner’s advice is the same. Be home before dark.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. For more about Eugene as a “City of Radiation,” see The Artifact: https://www.lchm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Fall_2019_web.pdf

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